Nightmare Before Christmas: Halloween or Christmas film?

Illustration: Madalyn Drewno - The Sentry

IT’S A HALLOWEEN MOVIE | Alexander Elmore

In 1993, The Nightmare Before Christmas, directed by Henry Selick and based on an original poem and screenplay by Tim Burton, was released in theaters. In the 25 years since its release, the film has sparked many debates over whether Nightmare Before Christmas is a Halloween or a Christmas movie.

It is definitely the former. The film’s director, Henry Selick, explicitly said the film is a Halloween movie at a questions-and-answer segment about the film at Colorado’s Telluride Horror Show in 2015. Additionally, the film has the word “Nightmare” in the title, something not associated with December. In fact, the whole film is a horror story.

For the few who have never seen the film, the plot revolves around Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town, who stumbles upon Christmas Town. He becomes so obsessed with the joys of Christmas that he kidnaps Santa Claus and commissions his own version of the holiday one that includes shrunken heads and dead turtle carcasses as presents. If this doesn’t sound like the description of a scary story, then there’s definitely a warped perception of the holiday spirit.

While a majority of the film takes place during the time between Oct. 31 and Dec. 25, with the climax taking place on Christmas Eve, the film starts on All Hallows’ Eve. The opening song of the film is titled “This is Halloween.” Most of the action of the film takes place in Halloween Town, with Santa being brought there while Jack takes over his holiday. The idea of the film is Halloween annexing Christmas, not the other way around, meaning Halloween is the dominant force/holiday in the movie.

As the final nail in the metaphorical coffin of the issue, the film moved from being released under the Disney label to its smaller company, Touchstone Pictures, because producers thought it was too scary and dark for kids. This is not something that would be done with a Christmas film, which is likely also the reason the film was released in October and not December.

While the film can be watched at any time of the year, including both Christmas and Halloween, the film is clearly most festive when it comes to the month of October.


Even those who haven’t seen The Nightmare Before Christmas should know that it is a Christmas movie—it has Christmas in the title.

In the movie, the main character named Jack Skellington, aka the Pumpkin King, is bored with his job and feels that life in Halloween Town lacks meaning. He then stumbles upon Christmas Town and promptly decides to bring Christmas to Halloween Town.

Throughout the movie there are recurring messages of love, sacrifice, and togetherness—themes that are often associated with Christmas movies. One of the best songs in the film,“What’s this?” is a song Jack sings during his discovery of Christmas Town.

The song is upbeat and cheery as Jack explores the magic of Christmas when he sees the residents of Christmas Town decorating their houses with lights and pulling roasts out of their ovens.

Additionally, The Nightmare Before Christmas is featured on Freeform’s 25 Days of Christmas lineup, further proving that this movie is a Christmas movie. In fact, last year TNBC was featured more times during Freeform’s 25 days of Christmas lineup than it was in its 13 Nights of Halloween lineup.

Most importantly, the movie was inspired by a poem Tim Burton had written, which was influenced by Christmas movies such as Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and a Visit from St. Nicholas, all of which are Christmas films.

Every year during the holidays at Disneyland, the amusement park decorates the Haunted Mansion, and it’s theme? The Nightmare Before Christmas.

The movie’s plot describes Jack trying to bring Christmas to Halloween Town. It is a fun twist on a Christmas story and therefore should be deemed as such.

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